No Fear of The Lord In This Place

Nov 12th, 2011 by Rabbi Simcha Weinberg in Portion of the Week
What was Abraham thinking? He was already famous as the person who defeated the Four Kings in battle. Abraham could not simply choose to settle anywhere without being perceived as a potential threat. Yet, he wants to move away from Sodom because the area has been devastated and he cannot spread his message of God. Did he believe that he could settle down, even temporarily, in Gerar, the land of the Philistines, without making Avimelech nervous? Abraham knew that his arrival would catch the king’s attention.

Abraham had no reason to be intimidated by Avimelech, and the Philistine King was probably desperate to establish peaceful relationships with this powerful personality. He had reason to want Abraham’s “sister” as a wife. What better way to form a bond with Abraham?

People were already nervous. A major commercial area, Sodom and her sister cities, had been destroyed, reminiscent in everyone’s mind of Noah’s Flood. When Abraham traveled, everyone knew. Reporters researched his background and probably uncovered the story of Pharaoh and Sarah. Avimelech had good reason to assume that Abraham, secure and strong, wouldn’t pull the same “sister” trick. What was Abraham thinking when he settled in Gerar? …when he presented Sarah as his sister?

The only hint we have of Abraham’s thinking is when he justifies his lie by saying, “There is no fear of the Lord in this place (20:11).” Abraham was the perfect person to consult about the Divine destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Avimelech’s first question should have been about the devastation, not peace treaties! The King had good reason to suspect that marrying Abraham’s sister wouldn’t help: Sodom was destroyed despite the fact that Abraham’s nephew, Lot, lived there. Avimelech doesn’t mention the terrifying destruction of Sodom. It’s as if he took it all in stride. Avimelech wasn’t paying attention. He learned nothing from Sodom. Abraham knew that there was no fear of the Lord in this place.

He suspected that Avimelech was someone who refused to learn from the past, so he pulled the same “sister” trick he had famously pulled in Egypt. He was right! Avimelech ignored all the press reports and chose to move ahead with his own agenda. Avimelech’s lack of fear of the Lord indicated a person who did not pay attention to the past. He would ignore Abraham’s great military victory.

Avimelech eventually considers the past: “At that time, Abimelech and Phicol, general of his legion, said to Abraham, ‘The Lord is with you in all that you do.” Rashi explains that they referred to Abraham’s victory over the Four Kings. “At that time,” only after Abraham exiled his son Yishmael, did Avimelech consider Abraham’s victory. Only then did Avimelech and his general consider the Lord. Why?

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